All week long, Crystal Ball Run's staff is handing out their postseason awards, in the aptly titles "Awards Week."
Today, staff writer Michael Felder is taking a look at his "Effort of the Year," San Jose State's Duke Ihenacho.
There are a lot of reasons that people watch football; the pageantry, the entertainment of 22 guys going up and down the field, the points, the big hits, because it's on or their alma mater is playing. All of those are good enough reasons to watch the sport I love and each of those is a reason that I tune into as much college football as I can on the regular.
However, those are not the primary reasons that I hunker down in the fortress and get lost in hours upon hours of football.
Truth be told, I'm a nuance and a love guy. The X's and O's of the game really get me going. Third down decisions and spinning safeties to combat a dominate wide receiver are at the top of what I'm watching the game to see. How a team attacks the 3-4 defense or how long it takes an offensive coordinator to give up on the inside run when someone is plugging the middle is what makes me enjoy football.
But, that's not the only reason. Sitting up there with being ridiculously intrigued by the little things within the game is the reason I wished more people watched football; I love it. I love the game, that's why I like the minutia of it all but more importantly I love these kids.I absolutely love them. They're giving up summers to work towards the same goal, putting up W's. They're signing up for a possible lifetime of arthritis, joint replacement and nagging injuries for a game they love. They're dealing with screaming men and being embarrassed in film by wrong decisions to get better one day at a time. They're pouring out blood, sweat and tears for their teammates, their school and ultimately the game.
When they get hurt my heartbreaks. When they are rewarded for executing a gameplan brilliantly, I celebrate it. When they make costly mistakes I go easy on them, I know no one feels worse about it than they already do; no need to pile on, the coaching staff, media and random fans will do that plenty.
I love these dudes, to the core. They're football players like me and that's something that I absolutely can respect regardless of background or where they're playing. They play hurt. They play injured. They try and give it a go because they want to help their team win and ultimately every guy dressed out would rather be on the field than on the sidelines.
In all of this football lovefest there is one thing that I can admit I love more than sophisticated coverage schemes, weakside cowboys and a mirror formation; effort. Seeing a linebacker scrape through the wash, defeat three blocks and get to a running back for a two yard gain makes me smile. Watching a big old guard pull and take out a linebacker then keep hustling to cut a safety gets this guy giddy.
Effort is a beautiful thing. Talent is wonderful folks but seeing a guy sell it out, give the cliche 110% for his brothers is what makes football the single best sport on planet earth for me.
That's where Duke Ihenacho comes into play.
We've seen a lot of great effort plays this season but none stands out to me quite like the man's work done by the San Jose State Spartan on Friday night in October against Hawaii. Team down Seven after giving up a touchdown to the Warriors. Props to Travis Johnson for starters on the sell out to block the extra point attempt as the point after would have made it an eight point game instead of the seven point deficit the Spartans currently face. Then Mr. Ihenacho puts out an effort worthy of recognition.
Scoops the ball up and takes off, going to get his team that two points that will cut the lead to five, creating a veritable three point turn around for Mike MacIntyre's squad. Then as you see at about the 38 yardline something goes wrong. The senior pulls up, he almost comes to a complete halt, limping and grabbing his hamstring. The kid is in clear pain. He's grimacing and hobbling as he has a decision to make about what to do next.
But then he makes a decision. He looks back at the pursuing Hawaii defenders. He recognizes how bad his team needs this and decides pulling up is not an option. Grit those teeth. Tough it out young man. Get the two for the Spartans.
Which is what he does. Turns back on the speed he was running with, hamstring be damned, The Duke is getting this ball to the house and there isn't a soul out there who is going to stop him. Cuts back across the field and limps across the goalline, grabbing the pain stricken hammy.
Now if you've never pulled or strained your hamstring I can't expect you to fully recognize what sort of an effort and true belief in "mind over matter" this took. The hammy is a fickle mistress that decides when she doesn't want to do anything, nothing is going to happen. For this kid to power through that sort of pain for his team is something special.
Guys pull up with hammies all the time. They get to the sidelines. They fall on the ground in agony. The Duke kept going because his team, his brothers, needed him to house that football to get the score to 27-22. Johnson started the party but Ihenacho was the star as he gave the Spartans every ounce of his body to put them in a position to win.
Eleven minutes later, with just 36 seconds left on the clock, Matt Faulkner and Chandler Jones make the senior safeties effort worthwhile by connecting on a 37 yard score. The Spartans are up 28-27, not down 28-26 or 27-26. That effort, those two points scored were the difference in the ball game. The kid finished the drill. SJSU didn't need a two point to tie or win the game. SJSU didn't need an extra point for overtime to hopefully win.
They got the win on the back, on the hamstring, of Duke Ihenacho's two point play with 11:46 to go in the game. That's effort folks. That's what I love about football.
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